Death sentence for British pensioner accused of blasphemy in Pakistan

The man was given the sentence despite having a history mental illness

Islamabad

A British pensioner with a history of severe mental illness has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being found guilty of breaching the country’s draconian blasphemy laws. 

Muhammad Asghar, 69, from Edinburgh, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is unaware that he is ill following a stroke, was convicted at the end of a trial in Rawalpindi in which it was alleged he claimed to be the prophet Mohammed.

During the case, which was heard without a jury, the judge forcibly removed his independent lawyers from the court and appointed a state counsel on the defendant’s behalf.

A sworn affidavit written by a leading British consultant psychiatrist confirmed that Mr Asghar’s grandiose claims were consistent with his deteriorating mental health but it was not considered as evidence.

His treatment has been severely criticised by human rights organisations which have long campaigned against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy legislation which, according to Amnesty International, has created a climate of fear and murderous vigilantism in the devoutly Muslim country where allegations of religious crime are routinely used to persecute minorities.

Experts said the laws forbidding the repeating of blasphemous statements make it impossible for him to be accurately clinically assessed.

Mr Asghar’s lawyers and his doctor are desperately concerned for his wellbeing after he attempted suicide following his incarceration in 2010. His condition is getting worse and he requires complex daily medication as well as psychological and social care but is instead sharing a crowded cell with other prisoners.

The conviction is now being appealed although it could take five years before it is heard. There have been no executions in Pakistan since a 2008 presidential moratorium although this expired last year.

Among his fellow inmates in Adiala jail is Mumtaz Qadri who became a hero among extremists after he shot dead the governor of Punjab province for speaking out against the mandatory death sentence for insulting Islam. The judge who convicted him was later forced to flee the country after receiving threats

As well as being paralysed on the left side of his body, Mr Asghar is said to be depressed, physically weak and barely lucid. He had lived in Britain for 40 years and run a number of successful businesses. He is married with two daughters – who are believed to be still living in Scotland - and a number of grandchildren.

Mrs Asghar, who is also said to be in very poor health, is in Rawalpindi. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in Edinburgh in 2010 after developing psychotic symptoms following a stroke in 2000.

He started to believe the British and Pakistani governments were monitoring his activities through his satellite decoder and claimed he was being bugged after writing to Tony Blair and George Bush to oppose the war in Iraq.

Following his release from hospital in Scotland it is believed he stopped taking his medication and travelled to Pakistan where he had a number of properties. There, it is claimed he entered into an eviction dispute with a local man.

After returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was arrested when the man handed in letters he had discovered written to a lawyer and a politician claiming to be a prophet.

His lawyer, who is now under guard after receiving threats for defending the Briton and who asked not to be named, said the letters had never been intended for distribution. 

“They were never posted as far as we know. These are essentially the views of a madman. They are private diaries which were taken by someone else,” she said.

“He is receiving no care for his mental condition or receiving prescribed medication. He was taken out of his individual cell and stuffed in with several other people in a very cramped cell. He keeps threatening to commit suicide and we are very worried about him,” she added.

In January 2012 Mr Asghar was found unconscious in his cell and was taken to hospital where he was treated in the intensive care unit.

When news of his presence there leaked out local militants demonstrated outside the hospital and made threats against doctors, the lawyer claimed. During his stay in hospital he was given a 20 minute examination which made no reference to his history of psychiatric illness, she said.

Following a change of judge and the removal of his lawyers, the state-appointed defence offered no further medical evidence and did not challenge a report based on the brief examination which concluded he was sane.

A clinical assessment of his condition seen by The Independent written by his former consultant Dr Jane McLennan of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh – a leading authority on psychiatric illness in older people - said it was “entirely consistent with a relapse of his schizophrenia that he would make utterances and act in a manner which would attract criminal charges in Pakistan.”

She added: “It is my professional opinion that such statements and behaviour would be very consistent with his mental illness and his symptoms of grandiosity and behavioural disinhibit ion would be very consistent with the alleged criminal behaviour.

“During his time in hospital, he often referred to himself as being a very holy man, in ways that were grandiose and clearly a reflection of his mental illness. If his condition worsened, as it seems to have done, he may have described himself in more exaggerated terms, while not meaning to commit blasphemy.”

Dr McLennan said that to properly analyse his behaviour she would be required to repeat her patient’s claims – potentially running the risk of being considered blasphemous herself.

“Thus the very nature of the charges in Pakistan make it difficult for a mental health professional to indulge in a full discussion of the proper diagnosis,” she concluded.

A 72-year-old British homeopathic doctor, Masud Ahmad, is also in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy after a mullah used a mobile telephone to film him reading from the Koran. Mr Ahmad is a member of a minority group forbidden from calling themselves Muslims.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We strongly object to the use of the death penalty and will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family during this difficult time.

“We have continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are dedicated to doing all we can to prevent the execution of any British national.”

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style